Alberta wildfires cause air quality concerns

WATCH ABOVE: There were more than 120 wildfires burning across Alberta on Saturday. As Lisa Wolansky explains, it made for poor air quality in parts of the province. 

EDMONTON – As of Saturday afternoon, there were 121 wildfires burning in Alberta, making for “very high” air quality health risks in parts of the province.

Cold Lake reached an 11 on the province’s air quality health index Saturday afternoon, which means a “very high health risk” to the public. Other areas of northern Alberta, including Elk Point, Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay and Fort McMurray were forecast to reach the same level Saturday afternoon.

Alberta Health Services issued an air quality advisory Friday, which remained in effect Saturday.

“The predictions are that we’ll have smoke, large amounts of smoke, passing through the Edmonton area off and on over the weekend,” says Gloria Keys, a medical officer of health with AHS.

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The very young, very old and those with pre-existing health conditions are most affected by the poor air quality. However, at the “very high” risk level, even healthy individuals may experience temporary irritation of the eyes and throat, and possibly shortness of breath, according to AHS.

“Use your nose. Let your nose be your guide and if it’s too smoky, slow down, take it easy, and if you need to you can do your activities later when the air is clearer or move indoors,” Keys says.

The air quality health index in the Capital Region, including Edmonton, Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan, sat at a three early Saturday afternoon, but is expected to reach six by late afternoon.

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READ MORE: Wildfires rage across western Canada, air quality advisories issued

The poor air quality is due to the numerous wildfires burning in the province. As of 1:15 p.m. Saturday, 52 of the 121 fires burning in Alberta were listed as out of control.

More than 1,700 firefighters are currently working to bring things under control. The province says 180 helicopters, 150 pieces of heavy equipment and 18 air tankers have also been deployed.

“It’s summer in Alberta and that means that it’s wildfire season, so we’re going to see wildfires across the province and those fires are going to put smoke into a lot of Alberta, and Albertans should expect that,” says Geoffrey Driscoll, a wildfire information officer with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

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“But that doesn’t mean that they should be scared, either. Firefighters are there making sure that these fires are put out as quickly as possible.”

Earlier this week, about 200 people from the North Tallcree First Nation were forced from their homes as an out-of-control wildfire burned about four kilometres from the community. Driscoll says firefighters were able to hold the fire overnight Friday, but there is still a risk to the community.

“It burned mostly to the southwest yesterday, which allowed it not to go into the community,” he explains. “The community is still considered threatened, yes, but our firefighters are continuing to work as hard as they can to try to prevent that from getting into the community.”

READ MORE: Wildfires threaten remote Alberta community, people forced from homes

Crews are closely monitoring a wildfire burning 15 kilometres north of Meander River, where 400 people are on an evacuation alert. A wildfire burning 50 kilometres west of High Level is pouring heavy smoke into the community, according to the province.

Cooler temperatures are expected in Alberta over the weekend, which Driscoll hopes will help firefighters in their battle.

WATCH: Kevin O’Connell has your long-range weather forecast, as of 6:30 p.m. Saturday

For the latest wildfire status in Alberta, click here.

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For more information on the current air quality health risks, visit the Government of Alberta’s website.

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